I sat down to write a blog post on ‘intuition’ yesterday, and as I turned on my computer, I was met with the horrifying and tragic news that Lee Rigby, a young soldier, had been murdered in broad daylight outside an army barracks in Woolwich, London yesterday afternoon. My thoughts and prayers go out to the man, his family and friends.
I did the rounds on facebook and was also surprised to read the reactions of some people from behind the safety of their computer screens.
And the horror continued…
It is alleged that within a matter of hours of the incident, groups were gathering to riot with police, and two individuals entered mosques with weapons, one with intent to arson, because the perpetrators of this crime supposedly made a remark that they were Muslim.
Of course, I know that if you are reading a blog about spirituality, it is unlikely that what I am about to say is addressed to you, but nevertheless it must be said.
The aftermath of an event such as this is not the time to reject our spirituality. It is the very time when our spirituality is needed: patience, forgiveness, understanding and introspection are ways that you can help as an individual, and are also ideals that all of us, as a collective, should try to remember. In the wake of this tragedy, let us react with rationality and love; and not irrational knee-jerk fear. Anger is a natural response to this horrific act, but retaliation through anger is a bad idea: that’s how any act of violence is escalated and perpetuated.
The very nature of ‘tit-for-tat’, ‘an eye for an eye’ is never-ending. So, we hit them twice as hard, then they hit us back even harder, then we get really pissed off and attack their country (which country?), then they buy a nuke from somewhere, then we nuke them first, then they nuke us twice as hard, then there’s three people left living in a cave with the cockroaches. Ok, perhaps that scenario is slightly hyperbolic. But the point remains: Where does the violence end? It ends where we choose it to end. Let the desire for violent retaliation end here.
Human being to human being, soul to soul, I am telling you, from wherever in the world you are reading this: You can choose not to retaliate. Here in the UK, we must choose to be ‘the bigger person’ at this time, even if it is difficult.
I know that many of us are scared and shocked by the murder of this poor soldier but fire cannot be fought with fire. Raising fear in others through retaliation is not going to heal the fear and anger that will be felt by many in the days and weeks to come. The desire to retaliate is like an overwhelming urge to scratch an itch, where if you do, you know the itch will just move somewhere else. So you scratch it again, and again, and again…and before you know it, you’ve scratched your skin off. Before thinking, saying or acting through impulsive anger or fear, we all should take a deep breath, take a step back and ask ourselves, ‘are my thoughts, words and actions a spontaneous fearful reaction right now?’ Yesterday, my answer was ‘yes’ so I went away to go do something else before sharing my thoughts with you. I gave myself a chance to calm down and think it through.
Here’s a problem. If someone chooses to incite more fear, hatred and discrimination, through words or actions, whether he or she feels justified or not, then that person is fanning the flames of violence and retaliation. Here are some things I hope will be taken into consideration before a decision is made whether retaliation is the right course of action- be it by an individual on facebook, or from within our government:
1. Unless someone was actually there in person and witnessed the scene, he or she doesn’t know exactly how much of the information being fed to us by the media is correct at this point. Buzzwords like ‘terrorist’, ‘muslim’, ‘soldier’, ‘death’ catch like wildfire, and are used rhetorically to make us feel scared. It just takes for one news story to use them and the rest of the internet jumps on the bandwagon. The information reaching us is not, and cannot, be the full story. Some information that was given to us when the story broke has now proven to be incomplete or false altogether. And so none of us can possibly make a full and correct assessment of the situation. This is why retaliation is a bad idea. No one has any idea what to retaliate against.
2. When someone hits back with racist remarks, anger, violent action or discrimination, it really just looks like he or she hates their own life and is looking for any excuse to express their own sad and frustrated feelings. If you don’t believe me, look back to point 1. We don’t know the whole truth of the situation, so an individual’s remarks about it are not actually comments about anything true…they are just that person’s feelings.
3. No one has any right to discriminate against a race of people, or a religious group, just because two individuals have done this. First of all, both the perpetrators are thought to be British and second, they are not representative of the Islamic religion, nor are they spokesmen for the Islamic people of this country. Do we want Muslim children being scared to go to school for fear of being racially attacked because of the actions of these two men? The children did not do this and Islam did not do this so we must resist blaming them. Some individuals need to be reminded that no religion has a clean sheet when it comes to violence, but what almost all religious violence does have in common is fear, anger, hatred and retaliation.
4. I have heard some outrage that both perpetrators are being treated in hospital. What purpose does this outrage serve? Denying medical treatment to them is just another form of retaliation. We live in a society, for better or worse, that is supposed to be democratic at its core. To live here is to accept the way things are done. If someone really feels strongly against the way things are done, then that person has the inalienable right to protest that x person/s who commit x crime should not be treated in hospital at expense of the taxpayer, but how many armchair fist-wavers on facebook will actually use that right? To express such an idea in a public forum without backing it up with action is simply to express outrage and incite more fear. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I don’t think that that is the true opinion of many outspoken individuals: it is the fear talking. In living in the UK, we give assent to the justice system, (I live in Scotland and we have a slightly different system to England, but that’s a conversation for another day), perhaps, this tragic event will show up areas of the law that need improvement, but I highly doubt that any meaningful changes will occur through the mighty court of facebook! As it stands, in order to be tried, the perpetrators must be fit to stand trial which involves being conscious, in order to be conscious and fit to stand trial, they must receive medical treatment. We do not condemn people to death in the UK so leaving them to die is simply not an option (would you really want it to be?). Being in receipt of medical treatment does not mean that the perpetrators of this crime are excused.
I wonder, why should these people in particular be denied medical treatment?…And where does the withholding of treatment end? I’m sure all of us know someone who has gotten into a physical fight; many of us will know someone, sadly, who has been killed. Should none of those people have received medical treatment? What about someone who has attempted suicide? They tried to take a life so should they be refused medical treatment? Where does the refusal end, if we were to really start on down that road?
I’m going to suggest something now that may be uncomfortable for some of you to read. What if the people who did this felt loved instead of scared and angry? What if the two perpetrators were not angry or afraid – would this have happened? To see the devastation that is caused by anger, fear, hatred and retaliation, we need only look at the act itself. When I look at those men, I see two scared little boys. Two scared and disturbed boys who do not feel loved by their God, who do not feel loved by their fellow man, who certainly have no love for themselves, who see no value in their own existence, and who have a heartful of anger and hate. One has to wonder, who taught them to hate so deeply? Who loved them so little that they felt that murdering another human being was the solution to their bad feelings? Who retaliated against who in their past, thereby teaching them that retaliation is the answer?…And back and back it goes. Let us make the decision that this tragically lost life will not be in vain, and will not simply be another cog in a never-ending cycle of tit-for-tat on an individual, inter-continental, religious or global scale. Let the tragic and unnecessary loss of Lee’s life remind all of us that a cycle of violence can only be broken when we realise that a reaction motivated by love, patience, foresight and forgiveness, however hard it may be, is the only progressive way to scratch the itch of retaliation.
Until Next Week: Visualize love for Lee and his loved ones. Visualize love for anyone in your life who is scared and angry and is reacting as such and, if you can, forgive.
Next Time: J is for Joy! (Why sublime happiness is good for your health.)
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If you are in the UK, and you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog post, you can get support here.